The neo-conservative factor

In the absence of official inter-state relations between Iran and Israel on the one side and Iran and the United States on the other, there is no avoiding the fact that much of what is happening between the countries is influenced by the activities of "sub-state" institutional actors who have filled the political vacuum left behind by the governments. One side effect of this constellation is that the American foreign policy-making process vis-a-vis Iran is heavily penetrated by neo-conservative functionaries and activists with close links to Jewish lobbying organizations and the Likud party in Israel. Let me frame the review of the evidence for this statement with two concrete questions: How pervasive is the neo-conservative-Likudnik nexus? How much leverage does it have on the power elites in Washington?

One newly established link in the chain of neo-conservative think tanks tied to Jewish lobbying organizations is the Coalition for Democracy in Iran (CDI). Founded in 2002 by Michael Ledeen and Morris Amitay, who used to be executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the organization aims to foster political support for regime change in Iran. Members include Raymond Tanter of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), itself an invention of AIPAC, Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy (CSP) and Rob Sohani who has close personal and political links to the son of the deposed Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi. Ledeen, Amitay and Sobhani joined forces at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in a seminar entitled "The Future of Iran", co-sponsored by the Hudson Institute and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. All three have connections with the media agency Benador Associates that manages both their op-ed placem! ents and television appearances. Eleana Benador represents Richard Perle, James Woolsey, Charles Krauthammer, Martin Kramer and other neo-conservatives tied to the Bush administration.

Influence on the levers of power in Washington is not only secured through lobbying efforts. There is also persuasive evidence for covert activity. In August 2004, it was revealed that classified documents including a draft National Security Presidential Directive devised in the office of Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith was shared with AIPAC and Israeli officials. The document set out a rather more aggressive US policy toward Iran and was leaked by Lawrence Franklin, an "expert" on Iran who was recruited to Feith’s office from the Defense Intelligence Agency. An FBI counterintelligence operation revealed that the same Franklin met repeatedly with Naor Gilon, the head of the political department at the Israeli embassy in Washington, and other officials and activists tied to the Israeli state and Jewish lobbying organizations, primarily AIPAC.

Feith himself has longstanding links to Zionist pressure groups. The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), for example, honored him and his father for their service to Israel and the Jewish people in 1997. He is also cofounder of "One Jerusalem", a Jerusalem-based organization whose ultimate goal is securing "a united Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel." A second cofounder of this organization is David Steinmann who is chairman of another neo-conservative institution with close ties to Israel’s Likud party, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). He is also a board member of the CSP and chairman of the executive committee of the Middle East Forum. Two other cofounders of "One Jerusalem" are directly tied to the Likud party: Dore Gold is a top advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Natan Sharansky is Israel’s Minister of Diaspora Affairs.

What makes things easier for the neo-conservative-Likudnik coterie is that it is operating within a pre-existent "anti-Iranian" context. Most analysts would agree that the image of Iran as a country in the grip of endemic revolutionary hysteria has been produced, reified and internalized by large segments of the American and Israeli public for quite some time now. That perspective has it that post-revolutionary Iran is monolithic, ruled by sword-swinging mullahs who are not to be trusted. It is a view openly articulated by many. Richard Perle, Harold Rhode, Michael Ledeen, David Frum and other activists and decision-makers tied to the neoconservative-Likudnik nexus are among them. For Iran, it is typically argued, there can be no reprieve. "When it is in our power and interest," pontificate Perle and Frum in their latest book An End to Evil, "we should toss dictators aside with no more compunction than a police sharpshooter feels when he downs a hostage-taker".

Given that the neo-conservative-Likudnik consensus has acquired all the qualities of a strategic, transnational alliance, it would be naive to assume that its mobile architects have not the means and determination to channel their campaigns into the power centers of Washington’s foreign policy elite. Both the US and Israel are receptive to this kind of manipulation, because producing the image of Iran as a rogue actor serves the important function to legitimate their policies in West Asia (demonizing Israel and the United States is equally expedient for the Iranian state, of course). Yet, there is no escaping the fact that all three actors share a "common fate," that regional stability cannot be secured without a pragmatic consensus among them. This inevitable independence demands opening up communication channels for future dialogue. Reaching that stage is dependent on a) the willingness of the United States to engage Iran diplomatically and b) the ability of the Islamic Re! public to legitimate detente with both Israel and the United States on the level of ideological theorizing.-